The Packers Defense Takes a Step Forward Despite the Loss

M.D. Jennings

(43) returns a fumble for a touchdown. Pat Lovell-USA TODAY Sports photograph

The Green Bay Packers defense held the Cincinnati Bengals offense to 297 total yards on Sunday. They forced four turnovers, returning one fumble for a touchdown, and registered four sacks. They held the Bengals two-headed rushing attack to 82 yards rushing and a 3.4 rushing average. They shut out Pro Bowl receiver, A.J. Green, for nearly three quarters of the game. They held Andy Dalton and the Bengals offense to only 19 first downs and a 4-for-11 third down conversion rate.

So why doesn’t any of this matter?

On any other Sunday this defensive performance would be good enough to win against the best teams in the NFL. But this week we’re not talking about how well the defense played.

Instead, we’re talking about how the Packers offense turned the ball over three times late in the game and gave away a 30-14 lead.

In fact, what’s overshadowed in the Packers’ ugly week three loss is the improved play of their young defense.

After receiving their share of criticism for giving up 412 yards passing and three touchdowns to Colin Kaepernick in the season opener, the Packers defense was again the center of attention after giving up 20 second half points and 320 yards passing to Robert Griffin III and the Washington Redskins in week two.

Despite how fair or not it is, Green Bay’s defense can’t seem to escape criticism for their performance on Sundays. Never mind the fact that they shut out Washington’s offense for nearly three quarters and didn’t allow a third down conversion until halfway through the second half. The Packers defense entered week three perceived as a work in progress.

When the Packers left Cincinnati on Sunday after a disheartening loss, it wasn’t the Green Bay defense this time to blame.

After the Packers gave up scoring drive to open the game, Jeremy Ross fumbled the following kick and put the Green Bay defense in a predicament. The Bengals scored on a 2-yard touchdown run by BenJarvus Green-Ellis the following play, putting the Bengals up 14-0 to start the game.

However, the Packers defense responded from this rough start by forcing Cincinnati to go three-and-out on their next possession. The defense then really took the game over by forcing four consecutive turnovers in the following four possessions, including a 24-yard fumble return for a touchdown by M.D. Jennings. Unfortunately, the Packers offense was only able to manage six points off the other three turnovers Green Bay forced in the first half.

The Packers defense was doing its part to put the game out of reach for the Cincinnati Bengals, but the Green Bay offense just couldn’t capitalize off these opportunities.

The Packers defense did give up two key scoring drives late in the game to allow the Bengals back in the game at 30-27, but this also came after back-to-back interceptions by Aaron Rodgers.

In fact, the Packers’ three turnovers in the second half weren’t doing the defense any favors. The Packers defense held the Bengals offense at midfield after the first Rodgers’ interception, which led to a missed 52-yard Cincinnati field goal. But the Bengals were able to put together a touchdown drive following the second interception.

20 of Cincinnati’s 34 points came off turnovers. Compare this to the 13 points Green Bay only managed from four turnovers and it is evident the Bengals did more with their opportunities.

So despite the tough loss, we should feel encouraged by the improved play of the Packers defense. They were put in a lot of tough situations on Sunday and they held their own against  a good Cincinnati offense. The Packers secondary and pass rush is steadily improving. Chris Banjo played well in his increased role. He got the start over Jerron McMillian and wasn’t a liability in his 54 snaps. Jennings made plays with the touchdown return and a sack on the next possession.

It remains to be seen how the Packers defense will look once they get back starting safety Morgan Burnett, Casey Hayward, and a healthy Clay Matthews, but we should feel encouraged how the young players on defense are stepping up.